Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drinking Local on the High Sierras: Mammoth Brewing

Inside Mammath Brewing's Tap Room (photo from Sean Turner)
Hearing the words "head for the mountains" brings back awkward college memories of swilling cheap Busch beer in college back in the 80's. Thankfully in our more enlightened times, heading for California's Sierra Mountains won't lead you to a skunky brew, but the fine beers of Mammoth Brewing.

Located in Mammoth Lakes on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Forest, the brewery was founded by Sam Walker in 1995, who sold it to current owner Sean Turner in 2006. Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet, water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile in the brewing process.    He also adds that a 8,000 feet, the mountain water they use is the purest being furthest upstream.  Mammoth is known for their Golden Trout Pilsner, Epic IPA, IPA 395,  Double Nut Brown, and Hair of the Bear Doppelbck among their more popular beers.  They've won a slew of awards at the California State Fair and other beer competitions, so they must be doing a lot right.

I can personally vouch for IPA 395, named after the main highway through the Eastern Sierras. Mammoth Brewing uses locally grown hops with dessert sage and mountain juniper to create one of the more unique and memorable California IPA's you'll find.  If hoppy beers aren't your thing, then give Mammoth's Hair of the Bear Doppelbock a try.   It tastes like liquid banana bread with it's banana-like fruity esters melding seamlessly with the highly roasted malts.  

In addition to innovative brewing, Mammoth Brewing was one of the first craft breweries to distribute beer in cans. "Putting in a canning line was one of the first things I did at Mammoth, before the sale was even completed," recalls Turner. "We sell most of our beer around Yosemite and putting beer into cans made it much easier for hikers to carry into the forest. We've increased our output by a factor of three since 2006, and going to cans was a big part of that." The second largest region for Mammoth is the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, as the beer is also popular with skiers.

Mammoth Lakes is also the home of the mighty Mammoth Track Club which includes many of  elite runners, including United States Olympic Marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. These athletes are seen all over town but apparently are focused more on running fast and winning races than drinking beer, as they rarely venture into Mammoth Brewing's tap room.  Turner remembers his first encounter with Meb Keflezighi when "Meb approached me about a deal to wear a cap with our logo on it for a couple hundred dollars. I barely knew who he was and I had just started running the brewery to get the brewery, so decided to pass on the idea.    Next thing you know, he wins the New York Marathon and becomes famous."

In early November, Mammoth will release its Owen's Valley Wet Harvest Ale, brewed using organically grown hops from a local hop farmer transported straight from the hop fields into the brew kettle.  Mammoth Brewing purchases these hops to support agriculture in Owen's Valley, a battle ground of California water rights where much of the local water has been diverted to Los Angeles.

To find Mammoth Beers, you literally need to head for the mountains as Mammoth Brewing distributes only from Truckee down to Kern County along the High Sierras.  You can also stop by Mammoth's Tap room open daily from 10am-6pm at 94 Berner Street in Mammoth Lakes. Two ounce tasting samples are free.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interviewed on Beer Samizdat

I was surprised the day Jay Hinman, author of the Beer Samizdat blog asked if he could interview me, especially since I don't know the correct pronunciation of "Samizdat".  I've always enjoyed Jay's smart and enthusiastic writing on Hedonist Beer Jive, which evolved into Beer Samizdat as he expanded his writing into other interests.  Turns out Jay is a Beer Runner too, having taken up running a few years ago.

So it is indeed a privilege to be interview by him, and I appreciated his simple, yet thought provoking questions.   You'll find the interview here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Grape Stomp Half Marathon: Where'd that come from?

There are good races, bad races, and then there are races like the one I ran this morning which make you say "How did I pull that out of my ass?".  I went into Grape Stomp Half-Marathon in Livermore, CA  hoping to run something like 1:26-1:27 and finished in 1:24:10 on a course with some decent hills on it, good for seventh place overall, and 3rd in the 40-49 group.  (Us old guys are kinda fast.)  And kudo's to Finish Line Productions who put on a great race on a scenic and varied course.

This race turned into one of those surreal events where good things unexpectly happen so fast, you don't realize what's going on.  My plan going into the race was to hit 6:40 pace through 6 miles, which is 40:00.  I come through at 38:13 feeling pretty good, and all I could think was "Hmmmm....well, I'm ahead of pace."   Expecting to see certain times at certain miles and instead seeing a totally different time on my watch caused me to simply dismiss each mile split without really thinking about what was actually happening.  I just concentrated on the runners ahead of me and the hills at the later stages of the race, worrying little about time..  I cross the finish line, look at my watch, see 1:24:15 and think, "Did I just do that?"

After bad races, I typically go through all sorts of soul searching about what went wrong and how to fix it.  So with this equally mystifying good run, maybe it's time to reflect on the things I got right and how to build on that.  And yes, blogs are great vehicles for navel gazing, but know some of you out there run, so you might actually benefit from a few nuggets of running wisdom I learned this year.

Day to Day, Month to Month, and Year to Year Consistancy is key
I spent the latter half of the last three years in some related injury rehab the prevented me from running.  Whether it was bad tendonitis in the knees that I finally gave into in 2008, a bad hip imbalance I had to see a chiropracter for in 2009, and a dislocated shoulder in 2010, I just could never string several good months of training together.  Taking a lot better care of myself, doing more stretching and avoiding the layoffs was really key.

Finding a Good Crew to Run with is Golden
I joined the Palo Alto Run Club (PARC) last May, a group full of talented, hard working running and got a bunch of great runs in.  Those "easy" five milers where we'd start hitting 6:25, 6:10 pace I think paid off.  Do enough 6:25 miles in your regular runs, and it'll start seeming like nothing.  And there's something about the shared experience of a run with others that makes all the hard work more meaningful. 

Run your long runs fast
I put in a bunch of 12 mile runs along the Sawyer Camp Trail, a nifty running trail on San Francisco Peninsula.  Most of them were timed efforts and several of them were with PARC, which meets there every Saturday morning.  I'm not a fan of slow long distance runs.  Do your long distance fast.  But  be careful, since fast long runs will take a lot out of you, and I normally did one every couple weeks to give myself plenty of recovery.

Tempo Runs are your Friend
The biggest difference in my training between the Water to Wine Half Marathon, where I ran a 1:28:46 in August and the 1:24:10 at the Grape Stomp were Jack Daniel's inspired tempo runs.  (That's Jack Daniels, the revolutionary track coach, not the bourbon.)  There's a high school track conveniently one mile away from where I lived, so once a week, I'd run to it, run 4 miles comfortably hard at anerobic threshold pace around the track, and then run home.  Tempo runs like that also help build focus, concentration, and create "pace sense" which helps any runner.

I might do another race or two before the end of the year, but nothing major, as this is basically the end of the racing season for me.  I still plan to start going to back to work soon, pointing towards the US Half Marathon in San Francisco this coming April.

But after this morning, I am tired.  And drinking beer.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brewmaster's Dinner featuring Stone Brewing at California Cafe in Palo Alto

There's a great looking beer dinner featuring Stone Brewing coming up at the California Cafe in Palo Alto this Thursday.  They always put on a great dinner and usually the brewmaster is on hand to talk about end beer.  Seeing Greg Koch there may be a little too much to ask, but expect a knowledgeable rep from Stone Brewing being there.  I have my reservation and expect they'll fill up fast.  Hope to see you there.   (The details and menu below were shamelessly swiped from The BetterBeerBlog.)

Who: California Café in Palo Alto
What: Brewmaster’s Dinner featuring Stone Brewing Company
Where: California Café, 700 Welsh Road, Palo Alto, CA map
When: Thursday, October 27, 2011 @ 6pm – 9pm
Cost: $45 per person, exclusive of gratuity. Call 650-325-2233 , or email to make your reservations today!


First Course

Food: Grilled Portobello Mushroom, chic pea fries, foie gras croutons, goat cheese
Beer: Arrogant Bastard

Second Course

Food: House cured pork belly, crispy pancetta, smoked bacon butter
Beer: Ruination IPA

Third Course

Food: Braised beef short ribs, parsnip puree, crispy onion strings
Beer: Imperial Russian Stout, Vintage ’08

Fourth Course

Food: Carrot cake, tipsy raisins, carrot gel
Beer: Old Guardian barley wine, Vintage ’09

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beer of the Month: Lagunitas Doppel Weizen

For the month of October, I thought about giving the honor to a pumpkin beer, and I had a good one in mind.  But pumpkin beers are quickly becoming a bit of a cliche in my opinion, and I decided to go with a more traditional style that you don't see much these days.

And so the Beer of the Month for October 2011 is a nifty Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas.  For those of those of you who thought a wheat beer was one of those light summer beers, you'll be in for a bit of a shock with this one.

The yeast really dominates, producing strong aromatic clove-like spiciness complimented with a little banana-like fruitiness on a bready, slightly toasty malt substrate.  It's a strong tasting beer with a slight alcohol heat, that nearly crosses the line into harshness, but thankfully doesn't.

So if you're looking for a real change of pace this month without resorting to having pumpkin in your brew, pick up this unique seasonal from Lagunitas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Strange Trail Running Affair

I have the same problem with running trails I used to have with women.  I seek out the one that are gorgeous and difficult ones, and the few and fleeting good times seemed to be worth all the pain.  Sure, trail running is full of aesthetic beauty and training benefits you can’t find on the roads, and it’s a great way to train as you constantly have to adapt to the changing terrain.  But that leads to more risk for injuries, and I’ve had plenty of bruised toes, sore knees, strained ankles, and even a dislocated shoulder to show for it. 

All course seeking beauty and overcoming barriers and taking risks is good attitude for a runner, but this approach in your personal life can cause you to seek love from people you shouldn’t fall in love with.  Thankfully, a good therapist showed me the errors of my ways in personal relationships, but this desire to keep running on the trails seems like I’m stuck in a bad love affair.

I first realized this on a hiking trip to Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains a couple years ago.   I had run a competitive half-marathon through those very trails only a few months earlier, but found the trails on that hike almost completely unrecognizable. That’s because I ran the half-marathon like a hunted animal, desperately focused on the uneven, rocky ground just a few feet ahead of me in order to avoid a serious face plant, ignoring the towering redwoods overhead and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.  The set of cascading waterfalls in the center of the park is a place where people linger, relax, and enjoy the unique sights and peaceful sounds, but they were just an anomalous sparkling blip I blew by during the half-marathon race.  This leisurely hike through these same woods made me realize that running or hiking through the woods creates a totally different perspective and appreciation of the forest. 
So these days, a bit older and presumably wiser, when I get to the top of the hill or to a scenic overlook, it’s time to stop for a few seconds and enjoy the view before hurrying along.  I now realize this brief interlude is something I deserve, but the nagging injuries from the trails keep coming, especially since I'm not getting any younger.  But despite the problems, I don't want to give up on this relationship.  I may be blind, but I still think we can work through all this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session #56: Damn Right I'm a Bud Man!

For this month's Session Rueben Gray of Tale of Ale asks us to write about our appreciation  for the "Big Boys" the large breweries most craft beer advocates most passionately hate.  I risk ridicule from the Beer Blogging Community and having my Beer Geek Membership Card revoked by singing the praises of Budweiser. 

I first gained an appreciation of Budweiser while discovering craft beer.  It was during my RateBeer phase a few years ago, when I carefully tasted and documented each and every beer I could possibly get my hands on, whether it be "craft" or "macro".  When I got around to putting a six-pack ounce bottle of Budweiser through those paces, I remember my surprise at how good Bud actually tasted.  Now it certainly wasn't a great beer, but it wasn't a bad one, either. So while your local brewer almost certainly makes a better lager than Budweiser, I'll have a Bud with its crisp, clear light green apple flavors and slightly astringent finish over any of its macro-lager brethren full of skunky off flavors any day of the week.

I'm also appreciative that Budweiser is central to the American barbecue, our country's unique contribution to world cuisine.  Now you will find culinarians and Cicerones pairing barbecued meats with a wide spectrum of beer styles including Smoked Porters, Milk Stouts, Dunkel Weizens, American Strong Ales, Saisons and other beers the typical barbecue pitmaster would find hopelessly exotic.  With all due respect to the extensive training, experience and super sophisticated palates of these so-called culinary experts, they are dead wrong.  The correct beer pairing for any barbecue is a Budweiser served exactly one nano-degree Fahrenheit above freezing temperature.  No fancy, schmancy glassware is required, as it is perfectly acceptable to drink it straight from the can or bottle. If you insist on glassware, a frosted mug is the preferred choice.   This fact is widely understood from Kansas City to Texas to all the way to North Carolina. I dare say you'd be wasting every one's time lecturing folks who've enjoyed barbecue this way for decades on proper beer serving temperatures and the pairing of contrasting or complimentary flavor profiles.  The fact that Budweiser played a major role in bringing friends, family, and neighbors together over a simple plate of barbecue is one of the many great things about beer, even from beer coming from some evil mega-corporation.

As a life long Chicago Cubs baseball fan, I must also give thanks to Budweiser for supporting the late, great baseball announcer Harry Caray, one of our country's national treasures, who announced the Cub games in the 80's and 90's during the time I grew up near Chicago. Harry Caray was from a by-gone era of unapologetic home field announcers who connected emotionally with Cub fans with his passion, elation and frustration over the course of each season.  Today's announcers are far more distant and analytical by comparison. You could tell whether that Cubs were winning or losing just by listening to Harry's tone of voice for only five seconds.   Considering how well he resonated with Chicago sports fans, he must have been an obvious choice for Anheuser-Busch to hire as a pitchman for Budweiser, and his smiling face could be seen all on billboards all over Chicago and on local TV commercials hawking Budweiser.  Somehow, the constant presence of Harry Caray warmly exhorting us to enjoy a cold Budweiser had a comforting effect few grew tired of.

Harry sometimes announced the games from the Wrigley Field bleachers, taking the perspective of the typical fan.   He blended effortlessly into the crowd on those occasions, and when he would declare to crowd around him, "Now would be a great time for an ice cold Budweiser!" it seemed so natural and genuine, even if you realized he was being paid to say that, we forgave him.  At the end of each Cub game, after Harry would either cheerfully recap a Cub's victory, or more often solemnly summarize a Cubs loss, he would always sign off with  an enthusiastic "I am Cub fan, and a Bud Man, and I hope you are too!"

I'm with you, Harry.